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HMS Hood sunk

The 'Mighty Hood' was the pride of the Royal Navy

The Royal Navy cruisers HMS Suffolk and Norfolk had been shadowing the Bismarck (along with the Prince Eugen) since they had sighted her heading south through the Denmark Strait at 1922 on the 23rd. The two cruisers had been able to keep their distance and hide in the fog.

The relatively old battlecruiser HMS Hood and the very new battleship HMS Prince of Wales now intercepted the German ships as they emerged from the gap between Greenland and Iceland. The Battle of the Denmark Strait began with the first sighting at 0535, the Hood opened fire at 0553. It was all over in a matter of minutes.

The crew of HMS Hood that had celebrated the New Year together now faced mortal danger. A remarkable account of the action was written by Ted Briggs who had a grandstand view of the action, being posted on the Compass Platform of HMS Hood alongside Admiral Holland, the commander of the British force:

The menacing thunder of our guns snapped the tension. All my traces of anxiety and fright left me momentarily. I was riveted with fascination as I counted off the seconds for our shells to land – 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25…then tiny spouts of water, two extremely close to the pinpoints on the horizon. Suddenly a report from the spotting-top made Holland realize he had blundered. ‘We’re shooting at the wrong ship. The Bismarck’s on the right, not the left.’ Our shells had been falling near the Prinz Eugen, which many hours earlier had begun to lead the German raiding force when the Bismarck’s forward radar failed. Holland seemed hardly perturbed and in the same monotonous voice said: ‘Shift target to the right.’

Within the next two minutes the Hood’s foremost turrets managed to ram in six salvoes each at the Bismarck. I counted each time, expecting to see a hit registered. The first salvo pockmarked the sea around her, and the third appeared to spark off a dull glow. I thought we had got in the first blow, but I was wrong. Suddenly it intrigued me to see four star-like golden flashes, with red centres, spangle along the side of the Bismarck. But I had no time to admire them. Those first pretty pyrotechnics were four fifteen-inch shells coming our way, and deep, clammy, numbing fear returned. That express train, which I had last heard when the French fired on us at Oran, was increasing in crescendo. It passed overhead. Where it landed I was not sure.

My eyes were on the two ships rapidly becoming more visible on the starboard bow. They were still winking at us threateningly. But the next salvo was not just a threat. Not far from our starboard beam there were two, no three, no four high splashes of foam, tinted with an erupting dirty brown fringe. Then I was flung off my feet. My ears were ringing as if I had been in the striking-chamber of Big Ben. I picked myself up, thinking I had made a complete fool of myself, but everyone else on the compass platform was also scrambling to his feet. ‘Tiny’ Gregson walked almost sedately out to the starboard wing of the platform to find out what had happened. ‘We’ve been hit at the base of the mainmast, sir, and we’re on fire,’ he reported, almost as if we were on manoeuvres.

Then came a crazy cacophony of wild cries of ‘Fire’ through the voice-pipes and telephones. On the amidships boat deck a fierce blaze flared. This was punctuated by loud explosions. The torpedo officer reported by phone: ‘The four-inch ready-use ammunition is exploding.’ I could hear the UP rockets going up, just as they had roared off accidentally in Gibraltar a year earlier. Fear gripped my intestines again as agonized screams of the wounded and dying emitted from the voice-pipes. The screeching turned my blood almost to ice. Yet strangely I also began to feel anger at the enemy for the first time. ‘Who the hell do they think they are, hitting our super ship?’ I thought ridiculously.’

As the AA shells continued to rocket around, Captain Kerr ordered the four-inch gun crews to take shelter and the fire and damage control parties to keep away from the area until all the ready-use ammunition had been expended. But the bursting projectiles were making a charnel-house of positions above the upper deck. The screams of the maimed kept up a strident chorus through the voice-pipes and from the flag deck. I was certain I heard my’ oppo’ Ron Bell shouting for help. These agonizing moments did not appear to trouble Holland, Kerr or Gregson. Their binoculars were still focused on the enemy. I wondered how they could be so detached, with chaos and havoc around them. This, I supposed, was the calmness of command, and some of it transferred to me like a form of mental telepathy.

Only a couple of minutes later the Hood blew up in a spectacular explosion. Ted Briggs was one of only three survivors out of the entire crew of 1,418. His full account can be read at the HMS Hood Association, which has amassed an extraordinary collection of material relating to the Hood and the action in the Denmark Strait.

The famous image of the Bismarck firing on Hood, the battle took place in daylight, the darkness of the image is due to its exposure.
The subsequent Board of Enquiry examined in great detail the exact cause of the explosion.

The German view of events was obtained when the Royal Navy subsequently interviewed the survivors of the Bismarck:

Kapitänleutnant Burkhardt von MĂĽllenheim-Rechberg, 3rd Gunnery Officer in “Bismarck,” stated during interrogation, that no officer recognised “Hood” at first, and did not do so until “Hood” turned to port, disclosing the long, low sweep of her decks. They had not bargained with coming into contact with “Hood” and for a time they were extremely anxious about the outcome.

The Germans, however, fired with great accuracy, and “Norfolk,” who was in a position to witness the duel, states that the first salvo was 100 yards short, but that the second salvo straddled and hit. The third salvo again straddled and hit and a fire broke out in “Hood’s” port battery, which spread rapidly to the mainmast. At 0600, just after “Hood” and “Prince of Wales” had turned together to open “A” arcs, “Hood” was straddled again. There was a huge explosion between the after funnel and the mainmast and the ship sank in three or four minutes.

The Prince of Wales was also hit, a shell killing everyone on the bridge apart from the Captain and she soon broke off the action. But the Bismarck had not escaped unscathed.

One of the very last photographs of Bismarck, seen from Prince Eugen, after she had been hit by the Hood (but see comments below about who hit Bismarck). There was significant flooding, which slowed her down, and also contaminated fuel, reducing her range.

13 thoughts on “HMS Hood sunk”

  1. I’ve just taken a re-interest in Hood for It’s date of demise, because BBC “Antiques Roadshow” want any info on the “first year of WWII” for their next series, 2019. In reality the first year was “The Phoney War” in which nothing happened.
    At some time my Father built a 7ft. scale model of Hood to be radio-controlled and by a twin cylinder engine which I have. I have done a restoration on it and run it on compressed air. Originally on what I’m not sure ??. No valves ??

  2. The specification of Hood was , as others have written, that of a battle cruiser rather than that of a battleship. She was therefore specified with relatively light armour. Between the first and second wars this was recognised and an attempt was made by the original builders, John Browne on Clydebank, to upgrade the armour – inadequately as is now well known. The Bismark came to an equally sad end but for different reasons. The interwar treaties dictated that the Germans were limited in the size and number of engines they could fit into the limited maximum size of hull they could use for Bismark. Therefore they had to squeeze the four engines of the Bismark into a limited space and to do so they had to align them with the drive shafts on converging trajectories. As a result, when the Bismark was hit in the steering flat by a single torpedo from an obsolescent biplane the net direction of thrust from the propellors could not be realigned to adequately allow for the partial loss of propulsion. This was why the Bismark was limited to travelling in circles rather than pick the most appropriate direction of travel. While the overall trajectory could be modified by relative differences in engine speed between the engines, this could only partially cure the problem. That was why the vessel could not escape the King George V and reach the safety of the occupied French coast. It was perhaps particularly ironic that the mighty Bismark, having laid low the famous, if somewhat obsolescent, Hood should herself be brought low by a single torpedo from an obsolescent biplane.

  3. Amazing responses posted on here. It was as if all of you were there to witness this horrible battle between the battle cruisers. Thank you so much.

  4. Have been reading notes from 1942, where the person says that one of the survivors of the HOOD was praying with the 91st Psalm. Does anyone have a record of that man’s name?

  5. Bismarck was hit by the Prince of Wales, not the Hood. And it should be said, the crew of the Bismarck didn’t really celebrate. They were mortified, because while they had secured a major victory, they realized just how many men they had just killed.

    On another note, Hood was doomed from the start. Pride of the navy or not, she wasn’t ever cut out to engage battleships like the Bismarck in direct combat. Her armor refits only slowed her down, and her deck armor would never stop a battleship caliber round, let alone the Bismarck’s 15″ shells. She sat so low in the waters she was known sometimes as the British Navy’s biggest submarine. Her fate was sealed as soon as she was chosen to hunt down the Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, let alone if only helped by a brand new, untested vessel with major mechanical issues with regards to her main battery guns.

  6. HMS Hood was a ‘JUTLAND Baby’ forty per cent built at the time of Jutland 1916. JUTLAND CHANGED EVERYTHING!!! Prior to Jutland 1916, all British BattleShips were built to Russo-Japanese War standards (Pre-Drednaught ballistics) were combating ships were to blast away at one’s BELT ARMOUR until wrecked else sunk. Jutland introduced PLUNGING FIRE and, by 1918, Time Delayed Armour Piercing shells were added to the mix. HMS HOOD should have been scrapped in suit but the decision was made to complete her. She missed WWI entirely but was a ‘Pre-War’ museum piece not fit for combat in WWI. From 1919-1939, HMS Hood was on constant duty of ‘showing the flag’ else manning embargos in Spain.

    To say Hood wasn’t fit for Fight was an understatement. All of her wiring & plumbing were WWI vintage as was her fire Direction Equipment. She had an additional 3,000 tons of steel put on her to combat plunging fire but even the THIRD Decking wasn’t enough. Conversely, the HMS Prince of Wales was too new to fight—actually going to combat stations with civilian technicians attending to her. Naturally, her idiot her X turrent (4×15″ guns) broke down mechanically and her other turrent was put out of action. On Paper, The HMS Hood should have made mince meat out of a simple BB and a CA (Hvy Cruiser) BUT old Hood was dealing with THE BEST 1941 BattleShip afloat, the Bismarck.

    ADM Holland tried to close the range and turn horizontal with Bismarck to counter-act Plunging fire as he had been briefed by the Admirality. Unfortunate for him, only he made the turn, not PoW and a shell either plunged into the 15′ (381mm) magazine else had skipped along the water and went into Hood between her Armoured Belt and her Decking. Strangely, there was no KABOOM as in HMS Barham—a flaming bolt went upward from her 4″ Ready Mades and her back broke in two (not a torpedo magazine exploding).

    Final Thing: ADM Lutzen (Sick) should have abandoned the break out to Brest Harbour and gone after the crippled & virtually defenseless Prince of Wales but he was too fearful to do so. Why? Remember the Geisenau and Sharnhorse (Sic) BattleCrusiers and their destruction of the British Air Craft Carrier? They were ordered only to raid commerce and their skippers were relieved of command for risking damage to their ships—stupid but true!!!

  7. i read all the witness reports to the second enquiry. The Hood was old lying too deep in the water and technically uncared for. She should never have been at sea. But such is war. Briggs memory fails him. It would seem she was hit several times. The fore turret, the conning tower where two hundred sheltering sailers were killed, the nest on the top of the fore master was struck, showering body parts onto those below. The hit on the quarter deck was from the German cruiser. The hits that caused the explosion were from Bismark. One went into the 4 inch magazine another into the y turret. What part the 4 inch guns were plan to take is unclear. Too small to harm the enemy but enough ammunition to set of the main gun magazines. The bottom of the ship was blown out. Given the terrible state of the engines they probably exploded too. Sadly the Hood was shot to pieces and was doomed the moment her admiral drove her head long into the path of the German ships. With two capital ships and two heavy cruisers a divided attack would have been a better bet like the cruiser admiral who defeated the Graf Sprae earlier in the war. Terrible to report but a savage vengeance for years of idleness and mismanagement by the government. But not as savage as the loss of Glorious which is almost forgotten. With a similar loss of life – over 1200 souls and for nothing. So sad. But we ought now to face down the insulting lie that it was a lucky shot from plunging fire. 16 degrees is hardly plunging. Fishers original concept of a fast lightly armed capital ship was insane – which cannot be denied as 4 of them just blew to pieces taking nearly 5000 sailors with them.

  8. If you are in any doubts about what is right or wrong regarding this battle then I will advise you to read the webpage of HMS ASSOCIATION “”
    There you will get all the answers you need.

  9. Having just read and always believed that the German Battleship Bismarck
    fired on and sank the British Warship HMS Hood
    I am now somewhat mystified as I have just watched a programme called
    The Great Battleships of the Second World War in which it states that a shell
    from the German War Ship Prinz Eugen actually hit the Hood setting it on fire
    which spread rapidly causing it to explode and sink
    is there any way this can be affirmed?

  10. Bismarck was hit by Prince of Wales as Egill Thorfinnsson says. HMS Hood had bad aiming, and as far as I know she didn`t get that hit on Bismarck that led to the fuel leak. I don`t have the source right now where I have read/heard this but it would be possibly to find out, without so much effort.

  11. This was the original text to go with the image, usually from a Navy source. What is your source?

  12. The text below the last picture is WRONG !!!! Bismarck was NOT hit by Hood but by Prince of Wales.

  13. Thanks for this, One of the best things I have read in a while. I cant imagine being Briggs and living to tell the tale of seeing a Battleship firing at the distance and you are the target.

    St. Paul, MN USA

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